Q&A: Musician Ethan Gruska to perform with Ray LaMontagne



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L.A. musician Ethan Gruska released his album "Slowmotionary" this year. Gruska will open for Ray LaMontagne on Nov. 4 at 8 p.m. at the IU Auditorium. Courtesy Photo Buy Photos

Musician Ethan Gruska released his first solo album, "Slowmotionary" this year, creating raw and intimate music in a world that he said can feel so loud. Gruska will be Ray LaMontagne's special guest Nov. 4 at the IU Auditorium. His simplistic sound has gained recognition from publications such as the Los Angeles Times. One article included the headline, "L.A.'s next great writer? It might be Ethan Gruska." Gruska spoke to the Indiana Daily Student about releasing his first album and defining his sound.

Indiana Daily Student: How would you describe your sound?

Gruska: It’s hard to say. I guess for this record, it’s just sort of this bare and vulnerable, dampened sound. There are just songs that have sparse and airy arrangements, but this is just this one record. I’ve worked on a lot of different kinds of music so it’s hard to describe a general sound, but this record is very sort of mellow and sparse.

IDS: With this being your first solo album after leaving the band Belle Brigade, what was important to you in defining your sound?

Gruska: This record for me was definitely a response to stuff that I had been doing with my other band with my sister. That band was all about energy and harmonies, and sort of fun and driving feeling. And I always wanted to make a record that sort of showed more of what I listened to when I was alone, which was Elliott Smith, Joni Mitchell, Nick Drake. Those are the things I sort of gravitate toward when I’m just in a room by myself. So those were sort of the inspiration. And I just wanted to make a solo record that felt like me at the time and then that’s just sort of what came out. 

IDS: A great deal of the album is very piano-based. Was there a reason you wanted it to be the primary instrument for this album?

Gruska:  I grew up playing piano in my band Belle Brigade with my sister. I always played guitar, and I mainly wrote on guitar. That was just because, you know, I thought it was cooler when I was a teenager, but I actually don’t understand what I’m doing on guitar. Whereas on piano, I grew up playing it, and I actually had somewhat of a command over the instrument and know what I’m doing when I’m writing and playing. Getting back to writing on piano felt like a sort of rediscovery of my roots because I had just been doing other things for a long time. So getting back and writing on piano sort of delivered a new voice for me, but it wasn't new. It was like a recycled thing for me. And yeah, it’s definitely a more intimate instrument. It brings out a different, more cinematic character. I listen to a lot of classical music, and I was kind of working on a classical piano repertoire a little bit, and that was an inspiration, so it just kind of came back into my life. 

IDS: What kind of message did you want to get across to people who are listening to your first album?

Gruska: I think that it’s a loud world, and you can barely hear your own breath. And not to sound meditative or cheesy, but I think it’s important for people to be quiet and look at things with a serene focus. When I was writing these songs, I was trying to not hide behind a bunch of noise and just sort of be straight forward. I would say if there’s a message in the record, it’s don’t hide behind noise of the world. You know, if you whisper something it can be just as powerful as yelling it at somebody.

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